The largest donation Oxford University ever received in its 900-year history was $100 million from Leonard Blavatnik. The gift was to fund the creation of a department for the study of government, and today Oxford is home to the Blavatnik School of Government.
Leonard Blavatnik is a Ukrainian-born billionaire who, according to The Guardian (UK), made his fortune by buying aluminum businesses after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since then he has expanded into the real estate, film, and music industries. In 2011 he bought the Warner Music Group for $3.3 billion. After the Royal Family, Blavatnik is the wealthiest person in the UK, where he became a citizen in 2010. He has been a U.S. citizen since 1984.
A couple weeks ago, Bo Rothstein, a professor of government and public policy at the Blavatnik School, resigned from Oxford, saying he did want to be in any way associated with a man who, he claimed, had given $1 million for the inauguration of Donald Trump. Rothstein characterized the donation as “incomprehensible and irresponsible.” Rothstein went on to say, “Donald Trump’s policies are also antithetical to the goal of the Blavatnik School of Government, which aims to improve the quality of government and public policymaking worldwide.” In an interview with the Swedish news site, Dagen Nyheter, Rothstein said he first became aware of Blavatnik’s contribution to Trump while a reading an article in the Dallas News.
The professor doth protest too much. The Dallas News story did report Blavatnik’s gifts to Republican political candidates, but Trump was not among them. A spokesperson for Oxford made the same point: “Len Blavatnik did not contribute to Donald Trump’s campaign either before or after the election, although he did make contributions to the campaigns of other Republican candidates.”
As for the inauguration contribution, the $1 million was not sent to Trump, but to the bipartisan congressional committee that organizes presidential inaugurations. In other words, Blavatnik’s money went to the fiscal black hole we know as Congress.
Yet even when confronted with the facts, Rothstein will not back down. “A donation was given to Trump’s inauguration,” he said. “That is in my book a support to Donald Trump.”
I wonder if he was this obtuse in the classroom.
Rothstein’s resignation is a classic example of selective outrage. If Mr. Blavatnik’s money — which founded the school, that hired Rothstein, and paid him his salary — is too dirty for any right-thinking professor to endure, then perhaps the entire Oxford faculty should quit. Father George Rutler of St. Michael’s Church in Manhattan writes in Crisis Magazine that in recent years Oxford has received more than $138 million from such questionable donors as the Saudi Royal Family and even from the Bin Laden family. And although the Zayed Bin Sultan al-Nahayan Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation bankrolled an anti-Israel think tank, Oxford was still happy to accept $2 million from the group. As for Cambridge University, it cashed a Zayed check for $1.7 million.
Why one would jettison a career at what is arguably the world’s most prestigious university on the basis of “information” that is just plain wrong is a mystery to me. But as Father Rutler says, “Academic politics are so bitter because the stakes are so small.”
Thomas J. Craughwell is the author of the newly released 101 Places to Pray Before You Die: A Roamin’ Catholic’s Guide.